The Borders of Nord-Pas-de-Calais: Camps, Actors and Insecurity

In this blog post I explore the securitization of the immigration process developed between France and the UK as units of the EU regional security complex. My main intention was to not only identify how both countries securitized immigration together, but also to identify the social consequences its produces for the city of Calais. The FR-UK immigration policy has been implemented in the city of Calais since 2002, and over time security apparatus has become more sophisticated, which sums up the transposition of the UK border and construction of refugee camps and jungles. As a result of this process, it was possible to identify the appearance of self-established camps, emergence of new actors, and rise of nationalism. I aim to highlight the relevance of bilateral policies developed between both countries and its impacts in Calais. From this, policies’ and migrants’ representations of emerging camps, new actors and nationalism will produce considerable changes in the city.

In the last decade in the European Union (EU), immigration has become a major issue. The EU placed the securitization of immigration at the core of its integration process, thus constructing an internal space of security and freedom for Europeans and deepening the borders to exclude extra-Europeans. This process encompasses security structures, institutions and legislation, therefore the EU constituted a regional security complex. I started from the assumption that the securitization of immigration is an approach employed to deal with immigration, and so to legitimize actions outside of political boundaries in the EU.

Conversely, desecuritizing immigration is problematic because the security apparatus produces new security issues (i.e. irregular migration, human smuggling, and nationalism), which requires more securitization to address this issue. This process involves a form of exclusion and increasing vulnerability of migrants going from the denial of rights to the implementation of refugee camps. I suggest that camps are part of the security apparatus because they exclude people in society. In the case of France there is an immigration and asylum system that does not include refugee camps in French territory, but in northern cities they are part of the asylum system. In this blog post I present briefly the social impact of long-term securitization in the UK-FR border.

The so-called jungles of Calais are informal or self-established camps at the French border. These spaces were built and managed by non-state actors and migrants until September 2015. The jungles are peculiar due to their self-sustainability across the time. The evolution of jungles is interwoven with a permissive security logic that uses the appel de l’air as an explanation for the absence of state protection, a deterrence strategy over social actors and straightening border security. Timing is relatively important to securitization, thus allowing the construction of a security apparatus that will be integrated into the landscape and perceived as changing social dynamics.

Securitization produces considerable impact on society, comprising of risk of violence between national communities (Huysmans, 2006), “abjection” of migrants (Van Munster, 2009) or asylum seekers (Squire, 2009) or, more generally, normative consequences. In this set of consequences, it is possible to add the intensification of irregular immigration and the informal EU border camps. The first came from the assumption that securitization shapes mobility practices by selecting the time-space mobility patterns (Malmberg, 1997) of migrants that are presented as a security problem.

Following Carling (2002), a mobility point of view is not something determined, but rather a result of personal aspirations, ability to move and structural constraints. The securitization of immigration will construct borders and boundaries by its security apparatus, which must change structural constraints and consequently even influence migrants’ personal choice. Concerning mobility, individuals who are represented as security problems (by speech acts) are not free to move, as they must face securitization structures and appeal to irregular migration means. As irregular migration is a threat, addressing it will require new security professionals, knowledge and technologies.

Calais: camps, actors and security

This particular securitization of immigration apparatus has been developed between France and the UK since the tunnel agreement (1986), and is influenced by the actual “refugee crisis” and the EU immigration and asylum system. Eventually, the flow that legitimizes security measures at the local level is also a result of non-integration of migrants and refugees in European countries, which shows the interdependence of the security apparatus between the local and the EU level. There is empirical evidence that the migrants living in Calais camps intended to go to the UK for different reasons (family, language, colonial ties, etc), but the fact that migrants are also not being “welcomed” or integrated in France and in other EU member State is a factor to consider when we analyze an individual’s decision (Da Silva and Machado, 2014). In this sense, the personal aspirations and experiences (with insecurity) of migrants will also give us an insight on the securitization of immigration at the EU level.

The jungles have been known in Nord-Pas-de-Calais since the 1990s. In 1999, the State in cooperation with the Red Cross opened the hangar of Sangatte, which was destroyed in 2002. Between 1999 and 2003, Sangatte provided shelter for 65,000 people (Liagre and Dumont, 2005). The hangar was a symbol of precariousness wherein its inhabitants were entitled to one meal a day in an unhealthy environment. The immigrants and refugees remained in Sangatte only for as long as it took them to cross the border, without any avenue to regularization or integration (Carriere, 2003). The hangar destruction was meant to eliminate the flow of migrants. However, Nord-Pas-de-Calais is part of an irregular migration route that causes a continuous arrival of migrants (Akoka and Clochard, 2009).

During the negotiation concerning the closure of the hangar, the UK political discourse on migrants stressed the difference between refugees and economic migrants, and portrayed Sangatte people as economic migrants: “As part of the final closure deal we will take a fair proportion of those in and around Sangatte. They will not come here as asylum seekers, however, but on ‘work permits’, to contribute and pay taxes, rather than being dependent on support. I have made it clear repeatedly that there is a clear difference between economic migration routes and our asylum system” (UK Home Office, 2 Dec 2002).

The discourse first presents the security problem and then policy to address the problem. In the case of Sangatte, the representation of immigrants and refugees as a burden is a crucial element to deny refugee status and give impetus to political elaboration. The same declaration announces the security measures to be implemented in France: “vastly improved security at Frethun and Coquelles to stop clandestines hiding on trains – including better fencing, security lighting and video surveillance, infra-red barriers, alarm systems, more gendarmes and security personnel” (UK Home office, 2 Dec 2002). It is important to stress that all these measures concern Calais and its surroundings. It was the beginning of a transformation of the city into a fortress as part of a counter immigration strategy.

In the aftermath of the hangar destruction, France and the UK signed the Touquet Treaty (2003), stipulating the full partnership and commitment of both countries, and the ‘juxtaposition’ of border controls. The treaty restricts mobility, strengthens the control of immigration and borders, and displaces English border control to Calais, consistent with an outsourcing strategy in which camps and new actors started to be included across the years. The border construction and cooperation between France and the UK to promote border security is followed by migrants’ precariousness and the emergence of nationalism in the French border cities of Calais, Grande Synthe and Norrents-Fontes.

In this sense, humanitarian actors (international organizations, NGOs, and associations) are involved in a system of exclusion and management of a security problem. According to Agier’s perception of humanitarian actors, they are the ones that are controlling, constructing or managing the camp, only to keep inside its boundaries the populations considered simultaneously or alternatively vulnerable and undesirable; victims and threats (Agier, 2015). Therefore, camps can be observed as products of securitization practices that depend on humanitarian actors and the perception of camps as necessary and urgent measures.

In France, the presence of immigrants and refugees living in camps is linked to the deepening securitization process between France and the UK across the years, but also with the absence of welcome policies in France and at EU level. In France, the asylum procedure is very bureaucratic and the system does not ensure accommodation for all asylum seekers. Another issue concerns the refugee-illegal nexus. In France, asylum seekers who have their application rejected “debuté du droit d’asile”, but are not expellable, become irregular or sans papiers. With no possibility of integration, they will eventually leave Calais to cross the channel and apply for asylum in the UK. The absence of welcome policies at EU level explains the presence of asylum seekers in Calais (trying to cross the Channel).

Based on an observation of Calais’ camps (jungles), it is possible to argue that securitization results in spaces of exclusion in which actors are constantly redrawing the boundaries between the camp and the city. Concerning these camps, timing was crucial in developing security practices for producing security and immobility, which was largely a result of the UK border externalization to Calais (by Touquet agreement policy). In Calais, the continuous reproduction of a camp system enhances local hostility, strengthening social boundaries and inscribing camps into everyday life.

The refugee crisis serves as an acceptable reason to limit the access of migrants to welfare resources and for more restrictive policy based on fear of the consequences of “uncontrolled” immigration (Heisler and Layton-Henry, 1993), or appel de l’airii. This process is constructed by the production of political speeches, presenting camps’ people as a burden, and increasing local hostility. In this sense, securitization will make the initiatives for the promotion of integration perceived, a priori, as a social and economic threat because they could attract more immigrants.

In Calais, migrants are in a deep exclusion, deprived of basic needs and so they do not feel able to remain in France, which make the camps durable and migrants even more vulnerable. The jungles are the non-state actor’s response to the absence of welcome policies in France and deep securitization in the France-UK border. In a context where the both countries had developed together a strong border security, and conversely exclusion of migrants, then solidarity and nationalism rises, and polarizing the city.

AmandP1010061a Da Silva is a PhD Candidate in Political and Social Sciences at the Centre d’Etudes de l’Ethnicité et des Migrations (CEDEM) at the Université de Liège.

Please note that the views held by the author are their own and are not representative of the institution(s) to which they belong.


One thought on “The Borders of Nord-Pas-de-Calais: Camps, Actors and Insecurity

  1. Excellent analysis of the perverse (or perhaps, in a worse scenario, desired) consequences of deleterious policy choices. One comment: I would specify what you mean by “nationalism”, because this is a very generic term with so many meanings


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